Nov 072013
 

Today I am connected to one of a new series of JISC and ALT (Association for Learning Technology) Digital Literacy webinarsMultimodal Profusion in the Massive Open Online Course – Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne. 

I will be taking notes throughout the session and hopefully catching many of the questions etc. As usual this is a liveblog so my notes may include the odd error or typo – please let me have your thoughts or corrections in the comments below!  

:: Update: the recording for this session is now available here ::

According to Lesley Gourley’s introduction these sessions are all being recorded and being made available online via the ALT website. These webinars are based on forthcoming papers in Research in Learning Technology – Special issue on Scholarships and Literacies in the Digital Age. Beyond practice and into greater overarching change. This will be out towards the end of the year.

Lesley is introducing Jeremy and Sian. Sian’s research interests are related to teaching and learning online, particularly around post humanism and multimodal academic literacies. Jeremy is working on a PhD on critical post humanism in open educational environments.

We are beginning with Sian: We will be building on work we have done in our E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC and looking at how we can theorise what we have encountered there.

The E-Learning adn Digital Cultures MOOC has just begun it’s second run. It initially ran in early 2013 with around 27,000 students and is running again, launched this week, with around 19,000 students. And we have tried to see this as going beyond the classic MOOC lectures. Instead we have curated open educational resources, web essays, etc. alongside theoretical work and educational thinking. And we then encourage participants to blog their thoughts. We have discussion forums but we also encourage them to use Twitter (#edcmooc), to blog their experience… influenced by the cMOOC design than by the conventional xMOOC design. And we saw before – and are seeing again – a real sense of community development. We see very active Facebook group (4500+, G+ group (3800+) etc.

Jeremy: For me one of the ways in which this sort of massive participation seemed to manifest was in the submission of final assignments to the EDCMOOC. We had over 1700 artefacts submitted. We asked them to create something that commented on one or all of the course themes, something creative designed to be experienced on the web. What was really interesting to me was that in that requirement to make the digital artefact public… we initially did that so that we could use peer assessment – using the peer assessment module – and in order for that to work, and to mirror the public open pedagoguey we were trying to use. But as a result this digital creativity began to be collected and curated on the web. So this image we see on the screen – a Padlet page of 330 artefacts – but you get this profusion of digital creative work. That’s significant because not only is assessment usually hidden, it is also usually private. But this is really open and collaborative as an experience.

And that really led to us thinking about this as “sociomaterial”. This is emerging in some educational research (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011) and encompasses ANT, Complexity Theory, Cultural Historical Activity Theory and Spatial Theory. So we wanted to think about this as a way of percieving relationships between humans (the social) and non-humans (the material). The relation is all important here as this perspective is about disregarding form before the relation, instead seeing the relation between these things as the key focus. I like the idea of Karen Berad who talks about “inter-action” but if we talk about “intra-action” we talk about those things without having to regard them as pure forms.

So why the sociomaterial? Well it counters what can be seen as an over-emphasis on human agency, particularly in digital literacy discourse. The idea that technology is just there to achieve educational goals – an approach that overlooks the role of technology and the change or influence it can have. And it also responds to the idea that online environments are “virtual” or somehow “immaterial” – we are moving to a place where the web is something real and tangible. And when we get to the idea of things being tangible we can get to a place where we see things as situatable to education events. And it offers an alternative way of understanding knowledge – what it is and how it comes about. This isn’t too philosophical but part of the day to day work of educators and the sociomaterial has some profound insights here. And it allows us to acknowledge ways that software and algorithms co-produce digital work (rather than being simple “tools” for human use).

Sian: At this point we thought it might be useful to say what we mean by digital artefacts, those created with a sort of sociomaterial literacy. So I thought I would show a few examples. Firstly “Twitterchat by cikgubrian” on YouTube which brought together and aggregate an assemblage of impressions of the EDC MOOC. Next up “My Scottish MOOC by Willa Ryerson” – another animation about the experience of the Scottish MOOC. Finally “Our #EDCMooc Experience: Class? Network? Something Else?” a “Haiku Deck” using images and text comments. Now Jeremy will do a more detailed reading of some of these artefacts.

Jeremy: I want to provide more of a detailed overview of how these might be looked at as sociomaterial objects. firstly “World Builder: a crowd-sourced tag heart” by John O’Neill. This was created with a tag cloud tool. What struck me was that this was submitted as a piece of work to be assessed for representing a theme of the course. It is put forward as a stable contained piece of work. But I want to look at the processes to produce it… which question it’s source and finality. It’s a sociomaterial reading that enables us to do this. So this text was produced in the responses to a video used in the course called “World Builder” about an idealised virtual world for someone apparently in a coma in hospital. So this text is from around 85 posts in a forum thread from about 75 identified participants. So it was this participant who took this text from the forum. A number of the responses addresses specific questions that we as a teaching team put forward, so our text not only informed that discussion as well. so the distributed elements were not just discursive but there were technological and algorithmic elements that shaped these texts. There are a number of automatic process that take place on this text. Several interesting variables come into play here. The scale of font to relative frequency is adjustable. The tightness regulate how tightly the words fit into a shape. But there are also factors that are automatic algorithmic changes – like removal of small words, combining of tenses, sometimes plurals. These are encoded into the software. And there is the heartshape as well… which determines location and proximity of words. So this seems to embody the symbolic from the material in this. It is a hybrid object, a continuity of matter and culture here. Social and material are not distinct. And as significant as the contesting and blurring of origins, also it’s stability and finality of the object is under question… it was submitted as a Flickr image, also in a Wallwisher, also on Tagxedo website. On the latter website each word is a hyperlink. That really blurs the status of the object as final for me.

And the second example is “E-Learning and Human 3.0” by Nick Hood, created by VideoScribe. It’s a presentation software using text and an animated hand. Once again this presentation has come about from some really interesting and layered process. So the user inputs text and positions it within a sort of whiteboard space. And select from some existing images. And you choose a sort of “preferred limb” for writing. This represents an archetypal black box of digital creation. A tension between software accessibility and usability – this software is clearly both accessible and usable – and on the other hand a kind of openness and user agency. The user doesn’t have fantastic control. That tension is also about absence and presence… the hand is a sense of presence, the spatial aspect of the classroom that draws on the idea of whiteboard. But the surface layer conceals non human agencies at play.

So firstly I wanted to touch on the idea of the image of the hand. So this is a screen capture of the video options – the limb or writing implement – you’d like to animate your presentation with. Most are arms, some are instruments, one is a foot. So you enact a teaching body different from the author – you are distributing the teaching body. And also the hand is animated with the software that preceeds the software. The teaching body is performed by this really complex assemblage of bodies codes, and texts. These are co-constituantly non symbolic. The teacherly body is human and non human at once.

The other thing is this straight forward way of simulating the classroom space. this was submitted via YouTube, where the video has algorithmically generated suggestions. And it will consider the viewer currently watching as well as other viewers of this video – and what they have looked at. This is complex and ongoing algorithm of human interaction that persistently changes that page and that video. Elements are rearranged, reordered, constantly reproduced by humans and algorithms. Human, body, algorithm and non human actor are all present and interacting.

Sian: so I guess we want to end with implications – what does this all mean? Jeremy picked on two of thousands of artefacts to think about how they fit into code, algorithms and agency. Some themes here:

Non-representationalism – seeing knowledge not as something re-produced or re-created outside of a situation (the human min) but instead knowledge is within and part of enacted relational process. Does the artefact convey the intentions of the author? It is about a more complex performance involving both the person and the alogorithmic elements. A new way to understanding that.

Anti-anthropocentrism – the decentreing of a human or human author as the authentic single author of a digital work, it is problematised, this idea of technology in our service… instead it is about decentring the subjtec allows to move beyond an instrumental view of technology and simplistic ideas of empowerment. It helps us interact criticism. So for instance that tool used by Nick presents all limb options as white, forcing us to think critically about that. So we have fundamental issues to consider here.

Both artefacts are i nteresting, we could have spoken about hundreds of examples. Our overarching point is to see digital literacy as something other than technical mastery, instead theoretical areas that decentre human intention.

Jeremy: So some conclusions to add to some of that. I find it interesting that in much digital literacy work you see this emphasis on skills training and future proofing. The idea of training, especially in schools, to enable students to be competant citizens for the futrue. Interesting to consider that in the context of anxiety and fear in relation to technology. Perhaps this may be a response to the loss of stability and authority in digital space.

We see the digital artefacts of the EDCMOOCs as a demonstration of complex, contingent, specific and relational sociomatierla practices.

The resulting knowledge might be considered a collective enactment of human and non-human agencies. Context matters here.

And this perspective gives us a new way to look at digital literacies. We see technology as having a role that expands further to the wider social, cultural and technological contingencies which shape work produced in educational contexts.

Q&A

Q1) Are YouTube videos on any channels?

A1 – Sian) We can share a list of the videos included here. I can also send around some sites where MOOC students have tried to crowdsource and curate these.

Q2) Interesting interpretation: how close is your relational-sociomaterial stance to Siemens and Downes’ Connectivism

A2 – Jeremy) Siemens and Downes are doing good work updating the social constructivist view of MOOCs up to date. For me it’s about how technology is perceived. A lot of the connectivism work slips into an instrumentalist view of technology as there to inform connections. Sociomaterial perspectvies takes a more nuanced views. Siemens has talked about “non human devices” so there are some interesting cross overs. But the view of technology is where they don’t quite correlate.

A2 – Sian) Connectivism making some great work and shifts in terms of pedagogical design but yes, still about being anthrocentric, less focus on the materiality of those networks. That is the slight difference for me than the sociomaterial approach we’ve taken here.

Q3) Why Collaborate rather than Google+ Hangouts

A3 – Lesley) ALT’s preferred method due to numbers.

Q4 – Nick) Is there any aspect of your research that considers the teacher as assessor and how aligned the teachers digital literacy has to be with the student’s digital literacy. Some students submit work that could be challenging to assess in terms of what parts of that work are the students’ own work versus the choice of tool use, to be able to interpret what the students content is?

A4 – Sian) Such an important question. Partly about teachers knowledge and understanding. Partly about what the tool can do. But it also troubles the notion of assessment. And it troubles the frameworks of assessment in particular – those are grounded in textual history, but this is much more about interpretation and the interpretation of the teacher. We are as much taxing our interpretation as the students skills. It questions intentionality.

A4 – Jeremy) A great question. The sociomaterial reading really questions if we can really assess the skill of the author or the skill of the algorithm. The YouTube recommendation algorithm… we don’t need to work out exactly what it’s doing, not the point, but it’s about showing it as entangles and enmeshes, the algorithm isn’t a purely material form, you can’t separate out the intention of the author. And that really troubles identifying and assessing achievements. Interpretation is an interesting way to move that forward.

Q5)  What criteria do you use to assess the students artefacts or creations?

A5 – Jeremy) These were peer assessed. We defined some criteria within the course and asked students to peer assess each other’s work. Students submitted the URLs. the software allocated the URLs to three students for feedback and grading. We were really experimenting with peer assessments. We weren’t trying to impose a sociomaterial assessment, these are a response to that process.

A5 – Sian) We drew on experience of peer assessment from the MSc of eLearning. The criteria wasn’t sociomaterial exactly. There is another aspect of form here, ideally we would respond in the same form as the submitted artefact.

Q6) Is the Edinburgh MOOC a cMOOC? And I’m not clear on the difference!

A7 – Jeremy) A cMOOC is a connectivist MOOC, the likes of Siemens, Downes and Cormier who were experimenting with open content and assemment. They were the original courses called MOOCs. Later Coursera, EdX etc. created platforms called MOOCs, called xMOOCs to distinguish from cMOOCs. So cMOOCs more radical and distributed. xMOOCs hosted centrally, usually established universities, high profile. I’m not sure we were either. Not convinced either is a valid way to talk about MOOCs. When xMOOCs first emerged… the first wave contained video lectures and quizzes in the first wave but actually things are moving on – Sian has been doing some work on this – but we weren’t really either. We wanted to combine interest in experimentation with Coursera platform.

A7 – Sian) Myself and Jen Ross have been doing some work for the UK HEA about MOOC pedgogies. No-one really talking about xMOOCs or cMOOCs so much anymore. One message out of that is that in the UK only really hybrid pedagogies in the UK.

Q8) In terms of digital literacy… perhaps the issue is that we are not sure what literacy means in any context.

A8 – Jeremy) Robin Goodfellow has done some great work on what we mean when we say “digital literacy”. We were taking a slightly different approach and rethink the idea of the human at the centre. See Sue Thomas’ interesting work on the complexities of literacy, of transliteracies. The complexities and factors here. Again that work for us… that still has the idea of the tool as something separate from the person using it.

A8 – Sian) I’d agree that literacy is an increasingly problematic term – Robin has done good work here but we have terms like “emotional literacy” etc. Some real muddiness not for researchers

Q9 – from me) In terms of critiquing digital literacies how much of what you critique of the instrumental approach is actually grounded in pragmatic needs of policy makers, funders, etc? Whilst skills based approaches are problematic, they are actionable for those decision makers. How would more sociomaterial approaches be actionable in terms of policy, in terms of ensuring critically skilled students/individuals?

A9 – Sian) I think you are right, skills based approaches can be addressed by policies but they construct literacies as deficits, so it’s about rethinking about literacy as capacities. To think again about how technology plays an active partnership in the way meaning is constructed. Hard in terms of policies but lets us move away from the idea of deficits and competencies…

A9 – Jeremy) Great question. It makes me think about the issues of literacies as a driver for MOOCs, efficiency gains etc. For me that question is great because it points to much wider institutional and political factors at play and the wider discourse around elearning.

Q10) Will you run the same course again?

A10 – Sian) We intend to offer it three times. We have made small changes this time and possibly again… but after that… well MOOCs are moving so quickly. I’m sure we’ll want to ride whatever waves are coming next…

A10 – Jeremy) There was a particular MOOC moment and I feel priviledged to have been teaching in that moment. As a team we would be interested in working at the critical edge of what is happening, not sure MOOCs will be in the near future. To add to what Sian said we had a lot of feedback on teh first MOOC. Around 60% of the first wave students worked in education and we have used their feedback. We shall do that again. But we also like to surprise people so we look forward to the third MOOC!

Q11) Seeing how different and personal those artefacts are for each learner, is it possible to define any sort of ‘common’ digital literacy, or would it be different for each person?

A11 – Jeremy) Yes, I think it really questions that idea… that distribution of agency and creativity. So many people were involved in creating that word cloud, including us as teachers. Of course the author plays a significant role in that particular coming together. But yeah, it definitely questions that.

A11 – Sian) I’d agree with that. That’s whats exciting about these academic forms, that can’t be flattened like traditional academic forms. And questions what we do when we assess academic work.

Q12 – Nick) I was just wondering about the different knowledge that participants arrive with… the issue of literacies and how they change, it moves all the time

A12 – Sian) It does really move, really question assessible terms

A12 – Jeremy) That relates to the earlier question. It is so situationable. It is not assessable to generalisable criteria really. if we think about these as singularities it is tricky to see how you might understand them and how important the situation they come about through.

Q13 – Lesley) I’m interested in what you’ve been talking about in terms of representation, assemblages and how they may be critiqued. The loss of some sort of shared code. When we think of masters or postgraduate level works, how do you engage critically with say that heart shape word cloud.

A13 – Jeremy) for me the sociomaterial reading is a way to be critical about what happened in order to understand how that artefact came about. It is about recognising the author and the decentering of that author… not a flattening out of considering what’s important and powerful and not represented, just a way to think about what is important, what is powerful in that coming together.

A13 – Sian) I think lesley and others may be interested in the ESRC Seminar Series that Jeremy and I are involved in around code in educational practice.

And with that we draw to a close with thanks to the speakers and facilitators.

See also:

 

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